Five thoughts after Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway…
1. Super superspeedway racing
NASCAR designed the new rules package to improve the racing on intermediate tracks, with the other circuits — short tracks, superspeedways and road courses — catching shrapnel from the impact.
Superspeedways weren’t an afterthought, but it wasn’t necessarily designed with Talladega in mind. But it sure as hell worked here.
Talladega was an excellent race, harkening back to some of the 2000s-style restrictor-plate racing (way before the tandems and before the block-and-defend racing of recent seasons). This was a race where drivers could move from the back to the front — after penalties, for example — and just as quickly move from front to back if they got caught in the middle.
If anything, the leader in the final laps was going to be at a disadvantage. Had the race gone green before the late wreck that caused a red flag, Joey Logano probably would have lost anyway; the second-place driver could have laid back to get a run on Logano, and he likely wouldn’t have been able to stop it.
That’s a big-time departure from recent years, where the leader just controlled the lines and stalled out the momentum from whichever lane had energy.
This form of plate racing — er, tapered spacer racing — was much more entertaining and exciting. And yet it also didn’t seem to be too extreme on the danger side — which was a real worry before the race, given the major runs the drivers said they were getting.
When a superspeedway produces a spectacle like on Sunday — thrilling, unpredictable racing without anyone getting injured — it becomes a can’t-miss event. For those who tuned in or came to central Alabama on a beautiful weekend, it was worth the time investment.
That hasn’t always been the case, including last fall. So this was a welcome and refreshing day.
2. Cheering Chase
The fans really, REALLY enjoyed seeing good Southern boy Chase Elliott win in Talladega. Dawsonville, Ga. is closer to Atlanta, of course — but ‘Dega is still only two and a half hours away from the Elliott Kingdom. And he felt the love.
Elliott soaked up the cheers after the race, calling it “one of the coolest moments of my racing career.”
“It was awesome,” he said. “Just the postrace was unbelievable. I’ve never had a crowd that just felt like (it was) in the palm of your hands. You get excited, they get excited. You walk, they don’t say anything. You pump your arms up, they get pumped up. That’s just something that I’ve never really experienced.”
Elliott won three times last year, so you would think the crowd at Watkins Glen or Dover or Kansas would have reacted similarly. But while those races had plenty of cheers, Sunday’s were especially enthusiastic.
“You don’t know if that will always be that way,” Elliott said. “People might not like you in a couple years. Today is something I’ll never forget.”
So what kind of impact does an Elliott win have? In the NASCAR community, it’s a jolt of electricity. He excites the fan base — especially the traditional fans — and generates a lot of good vibes. Beyond that, I don’t think an Elliott win crosses over into the mainstream sports scene like a Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jeff Gordon win did.
But if he keeps winning, he’s got a decent chance to make that happen eventually.
3. Chevy power
Imagine being Chevrolet at the Daytona 500 and the winning driver — in a Toyota! — goes to victory lane in part because your marquee team helped him during the race.
Clearly, Chevy was alllllll about making sure that didn’t happen again. No more Hendrick Motorsports/Joe Gibbs Racing secret alliance. No more questions about loyalty.
Chevy wanted its teams to work together — to the point where the manufacturer had meetings with all of its organizations during the weekend — and emphasized guidelines for doing so.
Race together on the track. Pit together. Don’t help another competitor. And above all else, make sure a Chevy wins.
“Fortunately, everybody did that and it worked out really well,” Elliott crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “We needed to win this. We needed to consolidate our efforts. We needed to break the streak that one of our rivals has here.”
Not only that, but Chevy needed to win a race — period. JGR’s Toyotas and Team Penske’s Fords had won all nine Cup races this season. And had Logano won, that streak would have been 10 and counting.
Chevy has been beaten up this year by critics, and rightfully so. The manufacturer as a whole hasn’t been up to par compared to Toyota and Ford, and it seems to extend across its various teams. They’re behind.
So this was a big day, even if it was on a superspeedway.
“I’m really proud of all the Chevrolet drivers, crew chiefs, engineers, spotters, competition directors and team owners on how they worked together to get the best results today,” Chevrolet’s Jim Campbell said. “It was great to see Camaro ZL1 drivers in the top three spots and six in the top 10.”
4. Flipping out
Kyle Larson — one of the planet’s unluckiest race car drivers so far in 2019 — went for an unexpectedly crazy ride on the last lap Sunday.
I say “unexpectedly” because all he did was get doored by a spinning William Byron, which sent Larson sliding on the backstretch pavement. You wouldn’t have thought it would be anything more than that based on the start.
But suddenly the slide turned into a flip. His car went airborne, and he hit the interior wall — luckily, since clearing it could have been disastrous for onlookers — and sent Larson flipping and barrel-rolling for what seemed like forever.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve flipped like that in anything,” Larson said afterward. “I just didn’t know if it was ever going to stop and where I was at in reference to the fence or anything. It was scary, but thankfully it came to a stop tires-down.”
It was unsettling to see the car turn over by itself, and Larson said NASCAR would likely look into it. But after looking at the replay, perhaps damage caused by the Byron hit played into the incident by allowing air to get underneath the car.
Actually, let’s hope that is the explanation. Otherwise, NASCAR may have to get to work on figuring out how a car could do that on its own.
5. Why the caution?
Let’s try to clear up some of the confusion caused by the timing of the race-ending yellow flag.
When the caution originally came out, it seemed obvious NASCAR was reacting to the multi-car crash triggered by contact between David Ragan and William Byron, which ended with Kyle Larson flipping.
Not so, per a NASCAR spokesman.
Right before the caution came out, NASCAR said officials spotted a large chunk of metal debris from Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s crash (later cited in Steve O’Donnell’s tweet) that was going to force them to throw a yellow flag. Officials didn’t feel it would have been safe to have the cars race back to the frontstretch with the debris there and possibly shoot it into the crowd if someone ran it over.
But just as officials were calling for the caution due to the debris, the backstretch incident happened and made it a moot point anyway.
The official race report listed the reason for the caution as the backstretch incident, but that’s not necessarily the case. Apparently, per NASCAR, the accident and the decision to throw the caution for Stenhouse happened at the same time.